Chapter XIX. Tom on a Hunt
 

Tom held his rifle in readiness, though he only intended it as a means of intimidation, and would not have fired at the burglar except to save his own life. But the sight of the weapon was enough for the tramp. He crouched motionless. His own light had gone out, but by the gleam of the electric he carried Tom could see that the man had in his hand some tool with which he had been endeavoring to force the safe.

"I guess you've got me!" exclaimed the intruder, and there was in his tones no trace of the tramp dialect.

"It looks like it," agreed Tom grimly. "Are you a tramp now, or in some other disguise?"

"Can't you see?" asked the fellow sullenly, and then Tom did notice that the man still had on his tramp make-up.

"What do you want?" asked Tom.

"Hard to tell." replied the burglar calmly. "I hadn't got the safe open before you came down and disturbed me. I'm after money, naturally."

"No, you're not!" exclaimed Tom.

"What's that?" and the man seemed surprised.

"No, you're not!" went on Tom, and he held his rifle in readiness. "You're after the patent papers and the model of the turbine motor. But it's gone. Your confederates got it away from me. They probably haven't told you yet, and you're still on the hunt for it. You'll not get it, but I've got you."

"So I see," admitted Happy Harry, and he spoke with some culture. "If you don't mind," he went on, "would you just as soon move that gun a little? It's pointing right at my head, and it might go off."

"It is going off--very soon!" exclaimed Tom grimly, and the tramp started in alarm. "Oh, I'm not going to shoot you," continued the young inventor. "I'm going to fire this as an alarm, and the engineer will come in here and tie you up. Then I'm going to hand you over to the police. This rifle is a repeater, and I am a pretty good shot. I'm going to fire once now, to summon assistance, and if you try to get away I'll be ready to fire a second time, and that won't be so comfortable for you. I've caught you, and I'm going to hold on to you until I get that model and those papers back."

"Oh, you are, eh?" asked the burglar calmly. "Well, all I've got to say is that you have grit. Go ahead. I'm caught good and proper. I was foolish to come in here, but I thought I'd take a chance."

"Who are you, anyhow? Who are the men working with you to defraud my father of his rights?" asked Tom somewhat bitterly.

"I'll never tell you," answered the burglar. "I was hired to do certain work, and that's all there is to it. I'm not going to peach on my pals."

"We'll see about that!" burst out Tom. Then he noticed that a dining-room window behind where the burglar was kneeling was open. Doubtless the intruder had entered that way, and intended to escape in the same manner.

"I'm going to shoot," announced Tom, and, aiming his rifle at the open window, where the bullet would do no damage, he pressed the trigger. He noticed that the burglar was crouching low down on the floor, but Tom thought nothing of this at the time. He imagined that Happy Harry--or whatever his name was--might be afraid of getting hit.

There was a flash of fire and a deafening report as Tom fired. The cloud of smoke obscured his vision for a moment, and as the echoes died away Tom could hear Mrs. Baggert screaming in her room.

"It's all right!" cried the young inventor reassuringly. "No one is hurt, Mrs. Baggert!" Then he flashed his light on the spot where the burglar had crouched. As the smoke rolled away Tom peered in vain for a sight of the intruder.

Happy Harry was gone!

Holding his rifle in readiness, in case he should be attacked from some unexpected quarter, Tom strode forward. He flashed his light in every direction. There was no doubt about it. The intruder had fled. Taking advantage of the noise when the gun was fired, and under cover of the smoke, the burglar had leaped from the open window. Tom guessed as much. He hurried to the casement and peered out, at the same time noticing the cut wire of the burglar alarm. It was quite dark, and he fancied he could hear the noise of some one running rapidly. Aiming his rifle into the air, he fired again, at the same time crying out:

"Hold on!"

"All right, Master Tom, I'm coming!" called the voice of the engineer from his shack. "Are you hurt? Is Mrs. Baggert murdered? I hear her screaming."

"That's pretty good evidence that she isn't murdered," said Tom with a grim smile.

"Are you hurt?" again called Mr. Jackson.

"No, I'm all right," answered Tom. "Did you see any one running away as you came up?"

"No, Master Tom, I didn't. What happened?"

"A burglar got in, and I had him cornered, but he got away when I fired to arouse you."

By this time the engineer was at the stoop, on which the window opened. Tom unlocked a side door and admitted Mr. Jackson, and then, the incandescent light having been turned on, the two looked around the apartment. Nothing in it had been disturbed, and the safe had not been opened.

"I heard him just in time," commented Tom, telling the engineer what had happened. "I wish I had thought to get between him and the window. Then he couldn't have gotten away."

"He might have injured you, though," said Mr. Jackson. "We'll go outside now, and look--"

"Is any one killed? Are you both murdered?" cried Mrs. Baggert at the dining-room door. "If any one is killed I'm not coming in there. I can't bear the sight of blood."

"No one is hurt," declared Tom with a laugh. "Come on in, Mrs. Baggert," and the housekeeper entered, her hair all done up in curl papers.

"Oh, my goodness me!" she exclaimed. "When I heard that cannon go off I was sure the house was coming down. How is it some one wasn't killed?"

"That wasn't a cannon; it was only my little rifle," said Tom, and then he told again, for the benefit of the housekeeper, the story of what had happened.

"We'd better hurry and look around the premises," suggested Mr. Jackson. "Maybe he is hiding, and will come back, or perhaps he has some confederates on the watch."

"Not much danger of that," declared Tom. "Happy Harry is far enough away from here now, and so are his confederates, if he had any, which I doubt. Still, it will do no harm to take a look around."

A search resulted in nothing, however, and the Swift household had soon settled down again, though no one slept soundly during the remainder of the night.

In the morning Tom sent word of what had happened to the police of Shopton. Some officers came out to the house, but, beyond looking wisely at the window by which the burglar had entered and at some footprints in the garden, they could do nothing. Tom wanted to go off on his motor-cycle on a tour of the surrounding neighborhood to see if he could get any clues, but he did not think it would be wise in the absence of his father. He thought it would be better to remain at home, in case any further efforts were made to get possession of valuable models or papers.

"There's not much likelihood of that, though," said Tom to the old engineer. "Those fellows have what they want, and are not going to bother us again. I would like to get that model back for dad, though. If they file it and take out a patent, even if he can prove that it is his, it will mean a long lawsuit and he may be defrauded of his rights, after all. Possession is nine points of the law, and part of the tenth, too, I guess."

So Tom remained at home and busied himself as well as he could over some new machines he was constructing. He got a telegram from his father that afternoon, stating that Mr. Swift had safely arrived in Albany, and would return the following day.

"Did you have any luck, dad?" asked the young inventor, when his father, tired and worn from the unaccustomed traveling, reached home in the evening.

"Not much, Tom," was the reply. "Mr. Crawford has gone back to Washington, and he is going to do what he can to prevent those men taking advantage of me."

"Did you get any trace of the thieves? Does Mr. Crawford think he can?"

"No to both questions. His idea is that the men will remain in hiding for a while, and then, when the matter has quieted down, they will proceed to get a patent on the motor that I invented."

"But, in the meanwhile, can't you make another model and get a patent yourself?"

"No; there are certain legal difficulties in the way. Besides, those men have the original papers I need. As for the model, it will take me nearly a year to build a new one that will work properly, as it is very complicated. I am afraid, Tom, that all my labor on the turbine motor is thrown away. Those scoundrels will reap the benefit of it."

"Oh, I hope not, dad! I'm sure those fellows will be caught. Now that you are back home again, I'm going out on a hunt on my own account. I don't put much faith in the police. It was through me, dad, that you lost your model and the papers, and I'll get them back!"

"No, you must not think it was your fault, Tom," said his father. "You could not help it, though I appreciate your desire to recover the missing model."

"And I'll do it, too, dad. I'll start to-morrow, and I'll make a complete circuit of the country for a hundred miles around. I can easily do it on my motor-cycle. If I can't get on the trail of the three men who robbed me, maybe I can find Happy Harry."

"I doubt it, my son. Still, you may try. Now I must write to Mr. Crawford and tell him about the attempted burglary while I was away. It may give him a clue to work on. I'm afraid you ran quite a risk, Tom."

"I didn't think about that, dad. I only wish I had managed to keep that rascal a prisoner."

The next day Tom started off on a hunt. He planned to be gone overnight, as he intended to go first to Dunkirk, where Mr. Blackford lived, and begin his search from there.